Addiction recovery presents challenges and obstacles, especially in the early days. In fact, anyone who is trying to make a significant life change may experience relapse triggers that arise unexpectedly. A trigger is an emotional, environmental, or social situation that evokes memories of past drug or alcohol use, threatening to weaken one’s resolve. Triggers can be internal, such as the feeling of loneliness. Triggers can also come from external sources, like pushing your grocery cart into the wine isle by mistake at the corner Publix.
Tackling Challenges in Recovery
At Sanford Behavioral Health, we prepare for recovery challenges while in treatment. In that regard, we develop individual recovery plans designed to provide support and accountability to each individual in our care. Likewise, our Family Program addresses the warning signs of relapse triggers with loved ones. Of note, the longer a person is in recovery, the easier it is to incorporate activities back into their life. In early recovery, avoidance is often the best response, but creating a new reward to replace the “false reward” of alcohol or other drugs works as well. Following are some common relapse triggers and tips for tackling them.
Common Relapse Triggers and How to Tackle:
Summer Vacation and Boating
It’s not fair, but for many, summer vacation and boating equals drinking and partying. And in Michigan, summer fun is fleeting, so there is a sense of urgency. The answer to this trigger is – water. Keep your glass filled with water, put plenty of bottled water in the cooler. Jump in the lake. Soak your head! But be honest with yourself – if you are planning a vacation/day trip with people who drink, you may want to cancel.
You hear in on Ted Talks and in AA meetings: when it comes to long term recovery, community is key. Be accountable to as many people and activities as you can schedule. Hike in the woods, learn to roller blade, join a birding, or book group. The more the merrier.
Sporting Events and Tailgating Parties are BIG Relapse Triggers
In early recovery, this might be one thing to avoid all together – especially tailgating. If you hosted these events, pass the torch. If you decide to go to the game or watch on TV, arrive for the kickoff, and leave as soon as the game is over. Have an exit strategy and a sober friend at the ready.
Parties, Special Occasions and Holidays
Arrive early and leave early. As above, have an exit plan and a sober companion. Hold your head high; you are making a great life change! Bring your own mocktails.
Accusations and Arguments
There will be a period of time when your loved ones do not trust you. They might smell your breath or ask you where you’ve been. There might even be lingering anger about why you used in the first place. Do not take the bait. Anger is an ugly emotion and a big trigger to relapse. Say calmly, “This is not helping me.” The only genuine answer for everyone involved is – connection. Connection to the support system that will help you adjust to and heal from the major life changes you are all making.
Family and Children
Think about it – family members push buttons: all your buttons. They are the people you want to impress. They also know you best, and think they know what’s best for you. But this is your recovery. Protect yourself. If it means limiting family exposure or family drama for a period of time, so be it. Children are resilient – tell them to, “Let go of the hem of Mommy’s garment.” The answer? Time – time is on your side, and so is consistency.
Open Alcohol and Pill Bottles
There is no excuse for having open bottles of alcohol or pills in the house of a newly recovered individual. Why tempt fate? A family member’s prescribed pain killers should be locked away. The word is – empathy. The loved ones who are appreciative of your hard work should be willing to remove relapse triggers and temptation.
Sex (Before, During, After)
Oh boy. A lot of people use alcohol or drugs as an aphrodisiac. Most newly sober people feel inhibited in social situations and in the bedroom. There is often a clear eyed reevaluation of sexual partners. It takes time for the inhibition to lessen, but it’s kind of like riding a bike.
Familiar Places (Streets, Liquor Store, Grocery Store)
This one is tough. If the street corner where you bought your drugs is near work and you have to pass it every day, take the scenic route. Do not ever go into your local liquor store again, and when grocery shopping, be mindful of the wall of wine on isle 17. This is another one of the stressors that lessens with the passage of time. In the early days, avoid those places you associate with buying your drug of use.
Changing Seasons – Relapse Triggers
You cannot stop the seasons from changing. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is real and like all the above, it is best to take stock of your feelings when it hits. In Michigan, the end of summer brings melancholy and for some the SAD symptoms abound. So, get outside in the fresh air and go for a walk, write in your journal, and if things get troubling, seek professional help. At Sanford, telehealth and outpatient programs provide real life options for treatment or refresher courses. Family and alumni programs will help you maintain connection.
Make Some Noise!
In general, when a trigger or craving hits, you should acknowledge it and make some noise. Pick up the phone and call a sober friend, get thee to a 12-step meeting, but do not suffer in silence or think you should handle it on your own. In early recovery, you are learning to ask for help. You are also opening up and reclaiming your feelings as you manage this monumental life change. The best thing to do is listen to your intuition. If it doesn’t feel right for your recovery, it probably isn’t.